Shortly after receiving a letter from a prisoner I know asking me if I could find him “a wife, not a girlfriend” online, I came across Melody Wilson’s essay “Love Behind Bars: Why did a nice girl like me date an inmate?“ on Slate.com. I have thought and written about the distorted fantasies prisoners conjure in their cells: the ways they imagine the free world, its women, jobs and daily life. I was never quite able to fully understand why some women seek out men behind bars. Why? Adam, one of the men I profiled in my book, said it quite fittingly: “Most women who come into prison with the idea of developing a relationship with a prisoner have problems developing a relationship with men on the outside,” he said. “And that cuts down on the kind of people you come in contact with.” (p.107) For this reason he had decided to stay single while serving three decades behind bars.
When I read Wilson’s essay, the following paragraphs offered additional insight from the perspective of a woman who had dated a prisoner:
The physical boundaries between me and Justin only served to release us from our inhibitions; nothing was off limits. Writing to him freed me. After all, who was he to judge?
Eventually, Wilson’s relationship with Justin fell apart. She explains,
Our relationship went wrong in much the same way other long-distance relationships do: We grew apart. Things that I had always known about him began to bother me more and more. Justin had never graduated high school, and he hoped to keep working in his dad’s tire shop when he was released. I still wanted more than that. I wanted more than he could give me, I realized.
It is interesting that Wilson understands this to have been a phase, and admirable that she outgrew it. She became a writer, and dating an inmate is only one of many interesting narratives that make up her life. Today she likes tigers, books, cooking and travelling, and is training to compete as a figure skater.